part IV

Roe jerked awake. She scanned her surroundings, bleary-eyed, reorienting herself. Ari was still across from her, a beaming grin on her face, gazing out the window in the gently whirring compartment.

Ari smirked at her waking, W0RM chirping from her lap, then returned her attention the scenery outside, “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”

“Hmm?” Roe rubbed the sleep from her eyes before peering out into a spectacular sight. A stunning vista of magnificent rusted canyons carved into the red plains stretched out before them, seemly endless against the pale glowing sky: the Valles Marineris. “Wow," she said, taken aback.

“Yeah,” ogled Ari, almost ravenous at the splendor, “It’s amazing. It’s been like this for the past half an hour.”

They marveled in silence for a moment, before W0RM hopped across the seats and burrowed into Roe’s lap.

She smirked and stroked his long tail feathers, “How long was I out?”

“A few hours. Still have a couple more to go.”

Roe nodded, looking out once more over the canyon vista. “So,“ she began, a hesitance in her expression, “What was that--heat--burning thing you did? Back in Aeris? Some spell or...”

The color drained from Ari’s face, and she looked to the part of Roe’s forearm she had held, “Why is it--”

“--No, it’s fine, I was just curious. I don’t know anything about this--stuff so,” Roe shrugged, rubbing her arm.

Ari paused, and it took her a moment to respond. “No. It isn’t.” She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, unconsciously, or perhaps not, covering her gloved hand with the other.

“Look, I didn’t mean to--” Roe started, defensively.

“No, it’s--okay,” Ari shook her head, embarrassed. “It’s...” Another moment passed before she spoke. “I actually don’t know what it is."

Roe raised her eyebrows.

“It's, uh, kind of a long story."

Roe shrugged and looked around the nearly vacant compartment, "Not going anywhere."

"Ha, yeah, okay...umm," Ari swallowed and took a breath, “So... one night when I was 8 or 9, I snuck into the Temple library--my mom is the head librarian--and, uh, I took--one of our oldest spell books--it was one of those things we heard rumors about in class, even at that age, and--it was stupid, but I tried one of the spells, I didn’t--understand what I was doing--and the next thing I knew--my right hand was glowing and, uh, I couldn’t stop it, and, uh, I just remember burning.”


“Yeah. An acolyte heard me screaming from outside and found me passed out on the ground with my hand like... well, you’ve seen...”

“They couldn’t fix it with some other spell or something?”

“Well,” Ari cleared her throat, “Umm, they chose not to. As punishment for stealing a sacred text. A way of, uh, leaning from one’s mistakes.”


“Yeah,” she forced her forlorn frown into a smirk. “So, ever since, when I get too worked up about something or get upset, I start to feel it--again--in my left.”

“Do they know what it is, like your doctors or-whatever you have?”

“I’ve, uh, never told anyone about it,” Ari shook her head abashedly. “Stupid, I know, but nobody needs’s pretty gross, I mean...” A look of shame washed over her, as she stared at her gloved hand.

Roe’s expression shifted. A quiet empathy behind her eyes.

“Anyway,” Ari blushed before looking back out at the Valles, avoiding Roe’s gaze. “So, yeah, sorry about that. It won't happen again.”

Roe stared at her for a moment then spoke with a wry kindness, “I’ve seen much weirder, trust me. There’s a guy with a lizard tail who runs a junkyard outside of Aeris that we buy parts from sometimes.”


“Yeah, he hands stuff to you with it and everything.”

Ari giggled in disbelief, “That’s--amazing.”

“Yeah, I had to stop bringing W0RM with me, because he kept on chasing it.”

They descended into laughter, as W0RM bristled his feathers, unamused. After a moment, they caught their breath and turned back to the sight outside.

“Thanks,” Ari said, a little flushed.

Roe looked at her and smirked without a word. As she looked back to the window, a look of sudden realization dawned her face, and she turned back, eyed narrowed, “That’s it.”


“The guy sitting behind you--don’t look--by the door--he’s been staring at us trying to look like he's not--and I thought he looked familiar,” Roe said in a hushed voice. “It’s the same guy who bought buns from Ilona when we were talking about the cave.”

“Really?” Ari said, quickly glancing behind her.

“He was there right before we had to book it to make the train, and we barely made it,” suspicion rose in Roe’s hushed tone.


He’s tailing us.